Geologic and humanitarian aftershocks continue to shake Haiti following the massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake that shattered the country on Jan. 13. The incredible damage to both the capital city of Port-au-Prince and its inhabitants has greatly affected the research being conducted in the Caribbean nation by the Hutchinson Center’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Institute.
VIDI's HIV Vaccine Trials Network has research partners in 28 cities throughout the world that conduct its studies, including GHESKIO, the Haitian Group for the Study of Kaposi's Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections, an HIV/AIDS clinic in Port-au-Prince. The group’s two main facilities were both severely damaged in the quake.
"The earthquake in Haiti is tragic and has a direct link to Center research because for the last 10 years, GHESKIO has been a key site for research for both HVTN and for affiliated networks with the population sciences unit of VIDI,” said Banks Warden, the vaccine institute’s executive director. “The investigators and staff at the clinic are key to infectious disease research of all types and more importantly, champions for the people of Haiti.”
GHESKIO opened in 1982 as the first institution in the world dedicated to the fight against HIV/AIDS. It has operated continuously and has never charged its patients any fees.
GHESKIO's lost lives
Maryse Thimothee, who led GHESKIO’s bacteriology lab, died with her mother in the earthquake when the roof of their house collapsed. The child of one of the clinic physicians, Dr. Sandy Nerettes, is presumed dead. Dr. Jean William (Bill) Pape, GHESKIO’s director and a professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, was slightly injured during the quake by a falling piece of concrete. Many of the more than 350 Haitian doctors, nurses, and support staff working for the clinic have lost their homes.
“This is the worst tragedy I have ever witnessed,” said Pape in e-mail correspondence with Weill Cornell. “It will take some time but I am convinced that with our dedication and effort we will succeed to get our country back. We have done it before. We can do it again. We have no choice.”
Following the quake, residents of the nearby slums quickly filled up the grounds of the GHESKIO clinic, the only functioning medical facility in the area. Most are homeless and there are many with severe injuries like severed limbs.
The refugee population at GHESKIO continues to grow daily—as do the challenges the clinic faces delivering food, water and medical care to the thousands camped there. The staff estimate 4,000 people are using their site by day and 5,000 at night.
Within two days of the quake, the GHESKIO clinics reopened for their patients despite extensive damage to their facilities. The doctors are working to find ways to treat not only the earthquake victims, but also their regular patient population of 100,000, many of whom depend on antiretroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis drugs.
U.S. medical team at the site
A hastily erected U.S. field hospital on the grounds is providing surgical care to injured children and adults. GHESKIO staff are assisting the 35-member U.S. medical team with patient triage and translation and have established a post-operative care area.
A structural engineering professor from Cornell University, Dr. Ken Hover, was dispatched to Port-au-Prince last week. Hover, an expert in concrete construction, is assessing the structural damage to the surviving GHESKIO buildings to determine if they can be safely accessed and utilized.
Concern and support
Because of HVTN’s research ties, there has been a tremendous outpouring of concern and support among the Center staff for their Haitian colleagues. Many are donating to GHESKIO to support the immediate relief and long-term rebuilding efforts through another GHESKIO partner, Weill Cornell Medical College.
GHESKIO reports that these donations have already made a tremendous difference. They now have a functioning generator and running water, and are providing food bars, oral rehydration solutions, antibiotics and pain medications to those under their care.
Please visit the Weill Cornell Medical College Web site for future updates.
The following NBC Nightly News video features Dr. Jean William Pape:
Read about the race to rebuild the world's first AIDS clinic in this Wall Street Journal article: